Student Spotlight: Sylvia Xu Connor
Seeking a new lifestyle and a fresh challenge, Sylvia left the fashion industry and entered the exciting world of UX UI Design.
After 15 years as a Fashion Designer, Sylvia retrained with Academy Xi and landed a Senior UX UI Designer role within a week of graduating. Read about Sylvia’s UX UI Design: Transform course experience, her fast start in the industry, and how she’s helping more Academy Xi graduates into design roles.
What led you to a career in UX UI Design?
I realised after the first lockdown that I didn’t want to go back to my old work routine, which meant commuting five days a week to physically be in a fashion studio. It was tiring and I have young kids who didn’t see me enough. I had skills that allowed me to work remotely, so I started casually searching for work-from-home design jobs.
It took about a month to discover this new term – UX UI Design. I was really intrigued by the concept, but UX UI is digitally-focused. I come from a more traditionally creative background, with lots of big personalities discussing branding, graphics, patterns and colours, and I needed to be sure UX UI was a good fit for me. At that point, I did what I do best – a tonne of research!
The more I found out about UX UI, the more I realised its principles completely aligned with how I approach design, which is 50% problem solving and 50% how well you can solve those problems by your grasp on tools. By that stage, I was fully committed to switching to a career as a UX UI Designer.
Why did you choose to study UX UI Design with Academy Xi?
I looked into all the course providers that offered UX UI Design, from short bootcamps to master degrees as I already have a UTS Bachelor of Design degree. I am extremely time poor so needed to be job ready in as little time as possible while fully leveraging my past experience in the design industry. I narrowed my search to two providers who could transform my career very quickly; Academy Xi and General Assembly.
Academy Xi had a more competitive price. Plus, the course advisors were super friendly and took time to answer all my questions. If I was unsure at any point, they encouraged me to do my own research. It was a big investment of time and money, so it was important to get honest advice without any pushiness.
After five months of weighing-up my options, I decided that if the course advisors were giving such a personal service, that was a positive sign for the course itself. Eventually, I settled on the Academy Xi UX UI Design: Transform course.
What were your first impressions of the course?
I did a lot of research and knew what to expect from UX UI before the course started. I wanted to push myself from the outset, because I knew I’d get back what I put in.
It was serendipity that the whole three months of the Transform course coincided with the entire Sydney covid lockdown period. I felt like I was in a time capsule of intense learning and delivering results. As a mature student who hasn’t done any studying since finishing my bachelor’s degree 17 years ago, it’s important to have a lot of attention and guidance. The course mentor, Hayden Peters, gave the cohort everything we needed and more. He always made himself available online outside of classes to answer our questions, or give that love and support when the course content became challenging.
The first personal project was a bit like learning to ride a bike. I pedalled really fast and got to grips with the UX UI Design process by making mistakes. During the first phase of the course, Hayden and my coursemates were my only stakeholders, so I had a safe space to experiment in. I made all my mistakes early, which gave me the experience I needed to really nail the live client projects.
Can you tell us about the live client projects?
The first client project was for Endeavour X. Endeavour X is a subsidiary of Endeavour Group and owns a number of the big drink sellers, like BMS and Jimmy Brings. With the border closures, Endeavour X had a shortage of talent to hire from. There’s not much awareness of what Endeavour X does, so the project became a branding exercise. We had to do a lot of UX research and design a website that would enable them to attract and retain the best staff, creating chemistry throughout the company.
The second client project was all about improving a chatbot for Dan Murphy’s. They have an existing chatbot, but it really only provides basic information about stores and opening hours. Our final design made the chatbot a more informative and engaging experience, helping deliver traffic to the existing website. Both Endeavour X and Dan Murphy’s were really happy with the designs the teams came up with.
How did you find working with the other people in your cohort?
I really cherished developing relationships with the other students. The course finished in October last year and we’re still in touch to this day. Some of the cohort based in Melbourne came to Sydney for the Christmas holidays and a bunch of us met up. Without the course, I never would have met so many great people.
We had a shared journey, a bit like pilgrims, and graduated with a collective experience that we can hold on to for the rest of our lives. We were all equals and could share our thoughts and feelings. As well as Hayden, we learnt from each other. Completing the client projects as teams really brought us closer together – that’s when we pooled our skills and really bonded.
How did you find the experience of learning online?
There’s nobody looking over your shoulder and pushing you to work. I think once you’ve broken that barrier and realised you need to motivate yourself, it’s very straightforward. The course is clearly laid out, so you can log in, see the modules in advance and work through everything systematically. There’s an independence that comes with online learning, and you’ll need it to get by in the professional world.
Learning online also enabled us to work on the projects at times that suited our schedules. Some of us were night owls and worked together into the night, while others were more active in the day. I completed the course while my kids were homeschooling and couldn’t start until 10am, but my coursemates were really accommodating. Collectively, we made it work.
How did you go from graduation to landing your new role?
I graduated in October on the same day as my daughter’s birthday. I had to tell her “I’m in a meeting, we’ll celebrate when Mummy finishes”!
My objective throughout the course had always been to get a new job, so I worked hard to grasp the skills, develop my portfolio and be job-ready. I immediately started applying for positions and the client projects were so valuable when it came to interviews. Rather than just saying “this is what I can do”, I was able to demonstrate my skills very concretely.
I didn’t expect to get hired so quickly, but looking back, I realise that I put myself in a strong position. I had all my ducks in a row.
Now, I’m working for Symbio, a big tech-telco company as a Senior UX UI Designer. I was the first ever UX UI staff member in a company of about 400 people. They brought me on board to speak for UX UI throughout the organisation, so it’s a big step for me and the business.
My plan for the next six months is to get a foothold in the company, raise an understanding of why UX UI is important by adding value to the business and to build a team that can deliver on UX UI objectives. I started with a blank slate, which means I’m having to set the benchmark, which is straight up my alley because my whole life is about setting benchmarks, and also a reason why I’ve achieved so much in so little time.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been tasked with a project that hasn’t moved very far in the months before I started. The company does a lot of business in Australia and New Zealand, but wants to expand into APAC. To make that possible, they need a portal that allows customers to self-serve. The head of digital decided they couldn’t go any further with the project without having UX eyes on it, which is one of the main reasons they hired me.
As well as the portal itself, I applied UX to the situation. I quickly realised the project could benefit greatly from having more meaningful dialogue between the internal staff and the overseas developers. I decided to bring everybody together in virtual meetings to get them collaborating more closely. Anyone facilitating online workshops needs to know how to get the most out of the tools and platforms, which is something I could offer straight away because of my experience with Academy Xi.
Now, the project is now fully up and running again. The company is really impressed with what one UX UI Designer can achieve, which is giving me the traction to put a UX UI team together. I recently hired some of the Academy Xi UX UI Design: Transform graduates, because I know first-hand how well prepared they are for working in the field.
What else have you done to stay involved with the Academy Xi tribe?
Hayden invited me back to give talks in his classes. I reassure the students that though the course can be challenging and they might be anxious about what’s to come, it does lead to great outcomes. I tell them if they put in the hard yards now, they’ll get to where they want to be in the long run.
Another ex-student, Diana Miller, spoke while I was studying. Diana now works for NAB and it gave me a sense of perspective to hear from someone who’d used the course to launch a successful career. I felt like I could offer that perspective to other students too.
Since giving the talks, I’ve received LinkedIn messages and offered all kinds of advice. One student received a job offer straight after graduating and, knowing I’d been in the same situation, called me to ask for my thoughts. I was more than happy to help her. It’s wonderful to still be part of the Academy Xi community. I’d like to help as many students as possible to follow that path into UX UI Design, because I know just how rewarding it can be.
Finally, would you recommend Academy XI?
Definitely! I have a few friends who are interested in other positions in the digital industry and I’ve sent them links to Academy Xi courses. I know a Project Manager and she wants to freshen-up her career. I’ve told her to jump into the digital space, take the Academy Xi Digital Project Management course and completely transform her skill-set.
If someone was interested in studying UX UI Design with Academy Xi specifically, I couldn’t recommend the course enough. I can say from experience that Academy Xi gives you the skills and mindset needed to make a big impact in the UX UI Design industry.